Warwick Armstrong

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If ever there was a man singled out as a king of sport it was Mr. Armstrong, who had gone out to give the people of England a chance to regain the Ashes and who had returned, like Imperial Caesar, who came, saw and conquered.

Outside cricket

The 1921 tour was Armstrong's swan song in first-class cricket. On the journey back to Australia, he suffered a relapse of the malaria that had plagued him since his earlier visit to Malaya. This kept him from taking part in any of the matches in South Africa, allowing Herbie Collins to captain Australia for the first time. Armstrong resigned from his job with Melbourne Cricket Club and drawing on contacts he had made while on tour took a role as an agent for Dawson's Scotch Whisky. [80] He remained in the liquor trade until his retirement in 1946. [81] Armstrong also applied his cricket background acting as a cricket journalist for the Sydney Evening News. His copy was promoted as "frank and fearless" and was generally contemptuous of much of the cricket and cricketers he saw, especially of what he saw as dull cricket. [82]

In 1922 he wrote a primer on cricket titled The Art of Cricket published by Methuen & Co, London. [83]

In July 1913 he married Aileen O'Donnell, the daughter of a wealthy Irish Australian pastoralist with large land holdings in the Riverina region of New South Wales. [84] The couple met while Armstrong was representing the Melbourne Cricket Club in a match against a Wagga Wagga XV. [85] Armstrong and his new wife settled in Melbourne, moving to the Sydney suburb of Edgecliff for business reasons in 1935. [86] Aileen died of a thrombosis in 1940. Armstrong, following illness that saw him lose much of the weight that he was known for, died on 13 July 1947, leaving an estate to the value of £90,000. [87] His funeral was held at St Joseph's Catholic Church in Edgecliff and proceeded to the South Head Cemetery. [88] He was survived by his son, Warwick Geoffrey. [89]

Armstrong was an all-round sportsman, playing Australian rules football in the winter for South Melbourne in the Victorian Football League (VFL), the premier competition in the state, from 1898 to 1900. A slim utility, he played 16 games for the club, scoring 18 goals. He played in South Melbourne's losing 1899 VFL Grand Final team defeated by Fitzroy by one point. [90]

Style and personality

An innings-by-innings breakdown of Armstrong's Test match batting career, showing runs scored (red bars) and the average of the last 10 innings (blue line). Warwick Armstrong graph.png
An innings-by-innings breakdown of Armstrong's Test match batting career, showing runs scored (red bars) and the average of the last 10 innings (blue line).

Although slim as a young man, Armstrong grew into a big man, weighing 133 kilograms (293 lb) and being 190 centimetres (6 foot 3 inches) tall. [92] As a result, he acquired the nickname "The Big Ship". [93] His oversize shirt, measuring 26 centimetres (10 in) by 85 centimetres (33 in) and his shoes, 32 centimetres (13 in) long by 18 centimetres (7 in) wide are on display at the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame. [94] A story told of Armstrong had a young boy following him around at a tour match in Southampton. Armstrong, thinking it a manifestation of hero worship, offered to sign the boy's autograph book. The boy turned to Armstrong and said, "Please, sir, you are the only bit of decent shade in the place." [95]

As a batsman, Armstrong was not a stylist. The Times , in describing Armstrong's batting after he scored his maiden century against Sussex in 1902 said, "Mr. Armstrong's methods were not attractive". [96]

His pose at the wickets gives an impression of awkwardness which is not dispelled when he shapes to play the ball and his strokeplay is essentially laboured ... His methods, however, are remarkably effective; they show a most admirable blend of aggression and caution, backed by the right temperament. His defence is very sound, watchful and painstaking, his strokeplay is limited in its variety, but very sound in its execution.

Leslie Poidevin, journalist [96]
Armstrong lumbers up to the crease to bowl. Warwick Armstrong bowling.jpg
Armstrong lumbers up to the crease to bowl.

Armstrong was tireless as a leg break bowler and was known for his ability to land the ball on any point of the pitch he liked. His action imparted as much topspin as leg spin, making it difficult for batsman to detect his "straight-breaks". [93] Early in his career, he bowled negative leg theory but later used his accuracy to great effect, bowling an over or two of leg breaks and then the straight one in the hope of bowling the batsman or receiving a leg before wicket dismissal. His action consisted of an easy amble and a gentle arc and was described in the Sporting Life as "rather like a fat uncle, not altogether unlike a fat aunt." [97] It was effective, however, with the Daily Telegraph stating after the first Test in 1921, "there is not a single batsman in England who faces with any appearance of confidence his innocuous slows." [97]

Armstrong was renowned for his gamesmanship and was willing to push the boundaries of what was considered acceptable behaviour in order to obtain an advantage for his team. In 1909, the English all-rounder Frank Woolley was making his Test début against the Australians at the Oval. Taking advantage of a rule that allowed bowlers to bowl trial balls or "looseners", Armstrong kept Woolley waiting nervously for more than fifteen minutes while he bowled trial balls alongside the pitch. [98] In a club game against St Kilda, Armstrong claimed a catch in the slips, only to have the umpire refuse the dismissal. It was the last ball of the over and as the field changed, Armstrong brusquely inquired why this was so. Informed that the ball had struck the batsman's pads, Armstrong then appealed for a leg before wicket dismissal, which the umpire then upheld. [99]

Armstrong was not a "walker"; he believed in waiting for the umpire to make a decision, once telling the English cricketer Arthur Gilligan, "The more you play this game, the more you will find out that you will be given out many times when you are not out and vice versa". [100] English professional cricketers took a dim view of Armstrong's approach to the game. Jack Hobbs, describing one instance said,

The chief offender was Warwick Armstrong, who got very nasty and unsportsmanlike, refusing to accept the umpire's decision. That upset me. I did not know if I was standing on my head or my heels with the consequence that two balls later I let one go, never even attempting to play it; and it bowled me. I still bear this incident in mind against Armstrong. [101]


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Warwick Armstrong
Warwick Armstrong 1902.jpg
Armstrong in 1902
Personal information
Full nameWarwick Windridge Armstrong
Born(1879-05-22)22 May 1879
Kyneton, Victoria
Died13 July 1947(1947-07-13) (aged 68)
Darling Point, New South Wales
NicknameThe Big Ship
Height6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
BowlingRight-arm leg spin
International information
National side
Test debut(cap  80)1 January 1902 v  England
Last Test16 August 1921 v  England
Domestic team information
Preceded by Australian Test cricket captain
Succeeded by